Monday, April 12, 2010

Analyzing Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver is about a girl who is mysteriously drawn to a wolf she sees from time to time in the woods behind her house. One day the wolf appears at her back door, wounded and human and needing her help. Their love is always shadowed by the fact that during the cold months, Sam has to constantly fight the tendency to turn back into a wolf - and at some point, like the other werewolves he runs with, he will someday not be able to turn back into a human at all.

This book is on the Young Adult best-seller lists and it's not hard to see why. It does have a slow start, but I loved the short, intense scenes, and the POV switches between main characters Grace and Sam.

What I learned about the writing:

I settled into the book like a visit with an old friend with a good story to tell, but the book really "hooked" me when Sam's life is in danger. Good lesson: raise the stakes, hook your reader hard. The beginning had a mystery, longing, and some beautiful writing, but when the stakes rose, it went from a good read to a great read - keep me up reading late into the night.

It starts with a girl being attacked by wolves, a dramatic beginning: "their tongues melted my skin; their careless teeth ripped at my sleeves and snapped through my hair, pushing against my collarbone, the pulse at my neck." Sam-as-a-wolf saves her from the pack... and then the story jumps ahead six years. The tension slows. But once Sam's life is in danger, and then their love is in danger, I couldn't stop reading.

What makes this writing work:

1) the love between Sam and Grace, which is heightened because they don't know how long they will have each other before he turns back into a wolf. So there is constant tension and sadness.

The love seat in the bookstore scene, and the candy store scene are wonderful with rich details.

Conversations like this keep it from getting too sappy:

"It was nice to not be the wishy-washy one for once."
I burst out laughing. "Those aren't the words I'd use to describe you."
"Okay, what words would you use then?"
"Sensitive," I tried.
Sam translated: "Squishy."
"Dangerously emo."
"Feng shui."
I laughed so hard I snorted. "How do you get feng shui out of thoughtful?"

... "You're beautiful and sad," I said finally, not looking at him when I did. "Just like your eyes. You're like a song that I heard when I was a little kid but forgot I knew until I heard it again."

2) the supporting cast of characters are excellent, almost better than the two main characters. I found Grace one-dimensional, almost a copycat of Bella from Twilight. Sam is a little better developed, but it's the relationship between Grace and her flighty parents ("just like that, her parental energies were expended"), and the relationship between Sam and his werewolf mentor, Beck ("school-in-a-box"), that you really see good development.

3) the author uses flashbacks well in this book. For instance, there's a scene where Sam is talking with Grace's mother upstairs, when he hears Grace scream downstairs. There's a flashback where he recalls Shelby, another werewolf that he's never got along with, telling him "it must be hell when we kill something. It must be the worst way to die." Flashback ends, Sam discovers that it's Shelby attacking Grace. The juxtaposition of the scream, the short flashback and the attack on Grace is powerful writing.
4) Isabel, a confused sister of one of the werewolves, is a minor character until the last part of the book, which is a shame. I wish the author had involved her more earlier on. She is a stereotype (the snotty rich popular girl at school) who turns out to be sort of a hero, while at the same time staying realistically snotty. A few examples:

Isabel's face was still wearing a pretty pout, but I saw storms destroying small villages in her eyes.

"Grace, I thought you were at the top of the class. Clearly the sliding scale has done wonders for you. Try to focus."

"I get it!" snapped Isabel [talking on a cellphone]. There were rustling sounds. "I'm getting my coat on. I'm going outside. Can you hear me? Now I'm outside. I'm freezing my ass off for you. I'm walking across the yard. I'm walking across the part of the grass my dog used to pee on before my damned brother ate her.... I'm at the garden shed. Sam! It's Isabel, if you're a wolf in there, don't rip my face off." I could hear her breathing into the phone. "The door's stuck like the other one. I'm kicking it with my expensive shoe and it's pissing me off."

A couple last things about the book: recurring themes. The chapters don't have titles, but they each have a Fahrenheit temperature (because cold temperature affects the wolves). And poetry. Sam loves poetry and composing song lyrics; Rainer Marie Rilke's poetry is laced throughout the book without being too much. Here's one slice of a poem I liked so much, I just had to end with it:
And leaving you (there aren't words to untangle it)
Your life, fearful and immense and blossoming,
So that, sometimes frustrated, and sometimes understanding,
Your life is sometimes a stone in you, and then, a star.


  1. Margo, thank you so much for stopping by! I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog. Good luck with your latest novel!

    I'm still considering sharing teasers or something to give my blogger friends a sense of my writing. I'll keep you posted!

  2. Hi Margo! Thanks for dropping by my blog.

    Great analysis of the book. I haven't read it, but I love the fact that each chapter has a temperature!

  3. These posts are such a good idea. I can't wait to read more of them.



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